Q: Are lifelong members of the LDS Church more or less likely to leave as compared converts?
Category : ask an expert
Q: I am specifically interested in whether there have been studies on those who have converted out of Mormonism in terms of how this breaks down statistically in terms of lifelong members vs. converts. Are lifelong members less likely to leave vs. others?
A: Rick Phillips kindly provided an extensive response to this question. He wrote:
In the 80s, using proprietary LDS data, Stan Albrecht found that converts were at greater risk of defection, and that the risk was highest in the first five years after conversion. Here is the citation:
Stan L. Albrecht, “The Consequential Dimension of Mormon Religiosity,” in Latter-day Saint Social Life: Social Research on the LDS Church and its Members, ed. James B. Duke (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1998), 273.
A few years ago, I published an article showing that nations with high growth rates have a high disparity between the number of people on LDS church rolls, and the number of people who claim to be LDS on national censuses. This implies that new converts are at much higher risk of defection. Here is the citation:
Rick Phillips “Rethinking the International Expansion of Mormonism” Nova Religio: The Journal of New and Emergent Religions 65 no. 2 (2006) 52–68.
These findings coincide with anecdotal reports and newspaper accounts of GA statements on the subject from this time frame. Thus, for the worldwide church, I think it is very safe to say that converts are at higher risk of defection than lifelong members.
The situation in the United States is a bit different. In a forthcoming article, Ryan Cragun and I show that until about 1995, converts were more likely to defect than lifelong LDS. However, as the demographic base that undergirds Mormonism in UT and the intermountain west begins to erode, this difference has been erased. Now defections are equally likely among lifelong members and converts, at least in the US. The article is entitled “Contemporary Mormon Religiosity and the Legacy of ‘Gathering,’” due out in the journal Nova Religio.
Finally, in a report that Ryan Cragun and I are writing, we use data from the American Religious Identification Survey to infer that defections from the faith in Utah are increasing, and that young men are at greatest risk of falling away. The male to female ratio among self-identified Mormons in Utah is now 2:3. This report is not quite finished yet, but it will be released soon.
Armand Mauss also suggested the following article on David Stewart’s website: http://www.cumorah.com/index.php?target=church_growth_articles&story_id=13